Illustration by Lindsey Balbierz
A little more than a year ago, 6-year-old Xavier Wielebski sat on the edge of an examination table waiting for his first treatment.
A class visit to a pumpkin farm made his eyes swell shut. Persistent rubbing produced sores under his nose and mouth. And despite advice from several doctors to maintain a daily regimen of five (sometimes up to eight) medications, he still itched, still coughed, and his eyes still sported dark circles. His allergy symptoms, which can be triggered by any number of outdoor activities, were not improving.
“Even with the medications, he was still complaining and rubbing,” says his mother, Meghan Wielebski. “He’d start rubbing his chin, then his nose, then his eyes, then his ears, and on it would continue. There is nothing worse than watching your child suffer.”
Desperate, she turned to an alternative treatment based on the advice from an even more alternative source – Xavier’s Irish dance teacher, Sean Beglan. He recommended she take Xavier to see his wife, a certified acupuncturist at Orchid Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture. Soon, Xavier was in Jillian Beglan’s office at the Bay View clinic.
When Beglan began the treatment, it started with eight small metal tools. They’re not to be confused with needles, which is the biggest misconception about pediatric acupuncture, Beglan says. “We typically do not use needles,” she explains, “but if we do, we just insert them and remove them immediately.”
For older children, a small number of needles are sometimes inserted for 10-15 minutes, whereas adults can have as many as 20 needles inserted for 30 minutes or longer.
“Children aren’t just miniature adults,” says Rebecca Staska Jankowski, a certified acupuncturist and owner of Orchid. “Their energy is more on the surface, and they have a tendency to respond really quickly to treatment.”
This energy is a patient’s “Qi” (pronounced chee), the flow of which acupuncture treatments aim to control. “You are either trying to tonify or reduce that energy,” Beglan says. That’s done by stimulating energy points – with needles or other tools – to manipulate the flow of energy.
Beglan and Jankowski typically treat children with shonishin, Japanese acupuncture that uses small metal tools to brush, tap and scrape along acupuncture channels. While a practitioner uses the tools to stimulate a child’s channels, the child gets to manipulate the tools. A typical treatment lasts about 20 minutes.
Jankowski and Beglan treat children for many ailments, from attention problems and allergies to gastrointestinal distress and respiratory issues. For acute concerns, as few as one or two visits might work, but chronic issues could need 10 or more sessions. After several patients contacted them about treating their children, Jankowski and Beglan sought out extra training two years ago, and they’ve seen more children since.
Although research about pediatric acupuncture is scarce, a study by Dr. Yuan-Chi Lin of Harvard-
affiliated Boston Children’s Hospital found that the average pain score of 243 children ages 6 months to 18 years dropped from 8 to 3 (on a scale of 1 to 10) after one year of acupuncture treatment.
For little Xavier, acupuncture worked. “After one session, he stopped rubbing, and after two weeks of seeing how well he was doing, we took him off all the medications,” Wielebski says. In fall 2012, 7-year-old Xavier could play in the leaves without a reaction.